We reach the end of act 2, and the yusho races are in full swing. Sadly for several of our “ones to watch” they are out of the yusho race, and some are already make-koshi. Ichiyamamoto lost his bout on day 9, and dropped out of the yusho race, but will be moving higher for May, thanks to his kachi-koshi. Meanwhile in Sandanme, Torakio is still looking for his first win of the basho. The Makushita yusho is down to 4 rikishi, and should be decided by the 7th match sometime later this week. Included in the group still in contention is none other than Naya, who returns to the dohyo and day 10.
In the Jonidan race, Terunofuji overpowered Daiyusho to improve to 5-0, and remain in the hunt. The Jonidan race is 6 rikishi wide, and that means it’s likely going to require a tie-breaking match or two. Top of the yusho race is 20 year old rising star from Mongolia, Roga. Roga has yet to lose a match in professional sumo, and took the Hatsu Jonikuchi yusho.
Day 10 Matches
Hoshoryu vs Kairyu – Its clear that young Hoshoryu is getting frustrated with his poor performance at Osaka. Some fans have pointed out a lapse in post-match manners, which is easy to improve. Given that he has had little resistance up to this point, the fact that he can’t blow through the Makushita joi may be a new enlightenment for him. But I am certain that given his fighting spirit, it’s going to drive him to train for higher levels of performance. This is a 1-3 bracket match, and the loser will get a make-koshi. In fact Hoshoryu has to “win out” to get a kachi-koshi.
Akua vs Nogami – A 2-2 bracket match, Nogami beat Akua in their only prior match. Kachi-koshi is still quite possible for Akua, and would allow him to take a step closer towards the Juryo-Makushita line, and possibly contest to return to the lime green mawashi for Nagoya.
Musashikuni vs Oki – These two have had 4 career matches against each other, and Oki has won 3 of them. Right now Mushashikuni is at 2-2, so like Akua he still has a clear, wide path to a kachi-koshi. But he is going to have to overcome Oki to get there.
Shoji vs Tagonofuji – Shoji won their only prior match. Once again the schedulers have stacked up all of the Mushashigawa clan on the same day, and most of them are 2-2! Tagonofuji is about 20kg lighter than Shoji, so I am expecting he will retain an upper hand.
Wakaichiro vs Kaorufuji – Up from Jonidan, Kaorufuji is a 180kg bunker-buster of a rikishi. As we have seen in the past, Wakaichiro is still working to figure out how to overcome the big ones, and today is another chance for him to get a win on the board. Hint to our Texas rikishi – aim for center-mass and accelerate your thrusts through his body. Oddly, visualizing the endpoint of that shove on the other side of his body seems to increase the transfer of energy….
Kenho vs Terumichi – A 1-3 bracket match, the loser will go home with a make-koshi. We hope Kenho can rally and bring his “big man sumo” out today. He has looked hurt and immobile for the past 3 matches.
After today’s action, Yokozuna Hakuho (9-0) remains the sole leader. The 8-1 chase group is down to four men: Yokozuna Kakuryu, Ozeki Takayasu, M4 Ichinojo, and M7 Aoiyama. His hard-fought loss to Ichinojo dropped Ozeki Goeido into the 7-2 hunt group, which also contains Sekiwake Takakeisho and M8 Kotoshogiku.
Much to our delight, we’re entering the part of the basho when multiple bouts have major implications for the yusho race. On Day 10, we will be treated to the heavyweight clash between Takayasu and Ichinojo (6-5 head-to-head) and, in the musubi no ichiban, to Takakeisho vs. Kakuryu. Hakuho’s lead is on the line against Tamawashi, who bested the Yokozuna last basho for the first time in 14 tries. Lower down the torikumi, Aoiyama takes on Shohozan, against whom he is 14-6.
Kadoban Ozeki Tochinoshin
Shodai didn’t make it easy, but the Georgian picked up an important W, wrapping up the easy part of his schedule with a 6-3 record and needing 2 more victories to defend his rank. The hard part of his fight card starts tomorrow with Goeido, who holds a 16-10 career advantage. How much did the Shodai bout take out of Tochinoshin? Will Goeido be off his game following his loss today? Will either man try a henka? Tune in tomorrow to find out!
The Ozeki Runs
With his 5th loss today, Tamawashi’s run is officially over, at least for now. Takakeisho’s is going strong, but he needs to find at least 3 victories in the 6 remaining bouts against both Yokozuna, all three Ozeki, and a maegashira to be named later. It starts tomorrow with his attempt to beat Kakuryu for the first time in 4 tries.
The San’yaku Ranks
Takakeisho moved one step closer to vacating his East Sekiwake slot via promotion, while West Sekiwake Tamawashi and the Komusubi duo of Mitakeumi and Hokutofuji need strong finishes to stay in the named ranks (the latter two can only afford one more loss). Ichinojo and Aoiyama have a substantial lead in the promotion derby.
The Makuuchi <-> Juryo Exchange
Dropping out of the top division: Chiyonokuni. Locked up his Makuuchi debut today: Shimanoumi (J1e, 8-1).
Fortunately for those in the red and orange zones, there are only two additional legitimate promotion contenders in Juryo at the moment: the rotund one, Chiyomaru (J1w, 6-3), and the amazing escape artist, Enho (J2w, 6-3). Both probably need to split their remaining 6 bouts to make it to the top division in May.
Possibly the best day of sumo in several months, it was packed wall to wall with solid action from everyone in the top division. Frankly, I don’t think anyone really just phoned it in today, and we saw good sumo in every match. The yusho race is going to be a barn-burner, and may go to day 15. The intra san’yaku matches are becoming the focus, and we are going to see some of the greats of sumo battle it out for the cup, with a couple of maegashira rikishi in the mix for good measure.
I have mentioned it already, but today we got another clear look at Takayasu’s subtle, but highly effective, change to his sumo. While I expected him to bring the shoulder blast back for this Tamawashi match, he stuck to his more focused, yotsu-style approach. The fact that I find Araiso Oyakata’s influence returning to Takayasu’s sumo makes me very happy. Without the pressure of trying to keep up appearances, and conserve himself for Honbasho, Araiso now is back to what made him great—relentless sumo, driving himself and his deshi to higher levels of performance. I predict many good things will flow from this man, who may end up being more powerful that he imagined post-retirement.
Shimanoumi defeats Yutakayama – The Juryo yusho leader brings his best sumo to his Makuuchi match, and flagging Yutakayama finds himself a half step behind. In a raging oshi-zumo battle, Yutakayama delivered more punishment, but Shimanoumi kept moving forward. Yutakayama needs to get his knees fixed; he can only generate token forward pressure. Shimanoumi is kachi-koshi and headed to Makuuchi for May.
Daishoho defeats Toyonoshima – Toyonoshima opened strong, but could not finish the match. With Daishoho’s heels on the tawara, Toyonoshima’s foot placement went haywire, granting Daishoho an opening which he did not ignore. Toyonoshima is likely headed back to Juryo, and I am going to guess he has some issue with his undercarriage.
Yoshikaze defeats Chiyoshoma – Do you know how we can tell Yoshikaze has at least some of his genki back? He’s bleeding. This bout turned into a mawashi duel, with Chiyoshoma’s loose outer wrap trending towards a mighty prime-time wardrobe malfunction. Yoshikaze showed no fear at Chiyoshoma’s threatened nudity, and battled on, renewing his left hand grip on his opponents failing mawashi. Both men showed remarkable balance and stability, resisting multiple pivots and throw set ups.
Meisei defeats Kotoeko – Kotoeko unable to active his “Hulk mode”, and Meisei taps his superior speed and maneuverability to win the tachiai, and the match. Kotoeko never had a chance to establish either an offense or a defense, as Meisei was left hand high, right hand on the mawashi.
Ishiura defeats Ryuden – Ishiura’s gambit of keeping Ryuden (aka Shin-Ikioi) at distance payed off. Ishiura used his size and mobility to prevent Ryuden from closing the distance for a yotsu-hold or any effective oshi-target. As a result, Ryuden chased Ishiura around, until his balance was poor and Ishiura could slap him down. Very effective small guy – high mobility sumo today from Ishiura. His footwork was quite impressive. Note Ishiura’s efficiency, and how he keeps his feet near the shikiri-sen most of the time – he owned the center of the ring.
Yago defeats Terutsuyoshi – Terutsuyoshi tried everything against Yago, but Yago’s excellent balance, low center of gravity and mass made it tough for Terutsuyoshi to take the initiative. I think both of these rikishi may end up with losing records, this tournament. For Terutsuyoshi that could mean a return for a time to Juryo.
Shohozan defeats Kagayaki – Kagayaki may have great fundamentals, but he foolishly ended up steering this match directly into Shohozan’s comfort zone. Any time you decide to trade blows with Shohozan, you are probably going to lose, and you are most certainly going to get beat up. Reminder to Kagayaki – you want to do “your brand of sumo”.
Tomokaze defeats Takarafuji – Takarafuji worked to stalemate Tomokaze from the tachiai, and was clearly on defense. For a good period of time it was working, and Takarafuji held the center of the ring, and his sumo was both efficient and effective against his younger opponent. But a mis-timed step left Takarafuji vulnerable to a hatakikomi, and Tomokaze delivered.
Aoiyama defeats Ikioi – Because of course he did. Will the sadist in the Torikumi committee please take the day off? I am impressed that Ikioi managed to generate a fair amount of forward pressure out of the tachiai, but Aoiyama just kind of waited for him to stumble a bit due to his banged up left leg. To me it almost looks like Aoiyama catches him and eases him to the clay. Ikioi now has a painful, limping make-koshi.
Kotoshogiku defeats Abi – I think Abi-zumo, in its current form, is past its sell-by date. Kotoshogiku can’t quite come in for his favored close coupling, but manages to break up Abi’s form and run him out anyhow. Abi did have Kotoshogiku perilously off balance for a moment, but as Abi was moving backwards, he could not use that moment to his advantage.
Okinoumi defeats Sadanoumi – Okinoumi’s sumo, taken over a period of months, is very hit-or-miss. But when he is healthy and his sumo is working well, the man is a library of smooth, controlled sumo excellence. We had a great exposition of that today, as the match shifted gears a few times, and Okinoumi stayed with everything Sadanoumi unleashed.
Asanoyama defeats Onosho – Asanoyama continues to improve his sumo, and we can get a good feel that Onosho is having balance problems. Some of that may be due to him favoring his good knee for a few months while he had been healing. This changed his natural sense of balance, and has left him susceptible at any moment he has more than 50% of his weight on that repaired right knee. Asanoyama works this brilliantly, and Onosho ends up with a face full of Osaka clay.
Nishikigi defeats Daieisho – After Nishikigi’s drubbing in the san’yaku, it would seem that many of his opponents (and some sumo fans) decided to write him off. With his normal calm, calculating sumo, he has won the last two with some fantastic form. Nishikigi slow-rolls the tachiai, and while Daieisho is pushing on Nishikigi’s head and shoulders, Nishikigi is pushing center-mass. Of course this works, and Daieisho finds himself moving in reverse gear, and unable to attack.
Endo defeats Myogiryu – Could we be seeing Endo bouncing back? Myogiryu focused on landing a face-slap during the tachiai, which is a bad move against Endo, as it gave him an open path to move inside and control the match. He wasted no time in getting Myogiryu turned sideways, and off balance.
Hokutofuji defeats Kaisei – Kaisei used his strength and size to great effect, and Hokutofuji was struggling to react after his initial pull down attempt cost him the initiative. Kaisei managed to bring Hokutofuji to his chest, but put his weight too far forward, and Hokutofuji dropped Kaisei to the clay.
Takakeisho defeats Chiyotairyu – An intense, violent succession of canon-ball collisions. Chiyotairyu continued to throw his massive weight against Takakeisho, who absorbed it all. Takakeisho looking very genki right now, and I am keen to see him start his “hell week” against Yokozuna Kakuryu on day 10.
Ichinojo defeats Goeido – Goeido put it all into this match, but when Ichinojo is genki, he brings so much mass, so must stability, and a lot of strength into every match. Ichinojo was clearly in “boulder” mode today, as Goeido could barely move him. Goeido tried multiple times to load a throw, but Ichinojo could not be moved. Ichinojo picks up his kachi-koshi against the hometown favorite. Fantastic match from both.
Takayasu defeats Tamawashi – Again we see this “smooth” tachiai from Takayasu, and rather than going for the mawashi, he keeps his hands high, and moves immediately to block Tamawashi’s thrusting attack, but it’s only partially effective. Tamawashi drove Takayasu back, but Takayasu continued to focus on center mass. He rallied at the bales, and charged forward for the win. Once Tamawashi was off balance, it was all Takayasu. I still think he may play a role in the Yusho race. Takayasu gets his kachi-koshi.
Tochinoshin defeats Shodai – Shodai made an excellent match out of it, and actually was able to get Tochinoshin on the defensive. But in doing so, he allowed the Ozeki his “sky hook” grip, and once that’s in, you are opening the door to Tochinoshin’s massive strength. Shodai continued to put up a great fight, but it was not enough. Stop it now, I am starting to feel sorry for Shodai, and that’s not right.
Kakuryu defeats Tochiozan – Tochiozan had zero chance to do any sumo. Kakuryu gets ideal hand placement and advances straight out of the tachiai for the win.
Hakuho defeats Mitakeumi – Mitakeumi, fighting hurt, gets Hakuho chest-to-chest, and holds him in the center of the ring. The Boss is patient, and waits for Mitakeumi to shift a grip for his balance. He does not have to wait long, and is rewarded with mae-mitzu and forward momentum. Textbook Hakuho sumo. Hakuho remains unbeaten, and leading the yusho race.
The basho comes roaring out of the middle weekend with the yusho contest still anyone’s to take – as long as someone can manage to get dirt on Hakuho. Tachiai’s own lksumo spells it out as no one else can in this post: Haru Storylines, Day 8, so feel free to take a look.
Entering the second week, the named ranks will begin to fight each other, and the Maegashira will compete to see who gets the coveted 8th win, and who is headed lower in May. Only one hapless rikishi (Shodai) already holds his 8th loss, but Kaisei, Nishikigi, Tochiozan and Ikioi are at 7 losses. None of them are at serious risk of being dropped to Juryo [though I wouldn’t be too sure about Ikioi –lksumo]. But there are some fans (myself) who are dying to see if the final week will bring us a match between old rivals Kotoshogiku and Toyonoshima. With Toyonoshima likely headed back to Juryo, it’s pretty much now or never.
But with the 9th day, its finally time to take a serious look at the Haru leaderboard!
Shimanoumi vs Yutakayama – The Juryo yusho leader comes to Makuuchi for day 9 to face a poor injured fellow who looks like he may be vacating a Maegashira slot for him in May. This is their first ever match.
Chiyoshoma vs Yoshikaze – Both are at 5-3, both are highly mobile and will happily put any number of sumo moves into play over the course of a single match. I am sure Yoshikaze is ready for a Chiyoshoma henka attempt.
Ryuden vs Ishiura – I am going to go with the notion that Ryuden will get a chance to get a mawashi grip on Ishiura, and we will see some Ishiura chest to chest, or chest to forehead sumo.
Terutsuyoshi vs Yago – Both are at an appalling 2-6, with Terutsuyoshi in real danger of vacating his Maegashira rank in May. They are evenly matched during their history in the lower ranks, and both of them have been underperforming their trend lines for Haru.
Shohozan vs Kagayaki – Kagayaki has now won 4 in a row, and seems to have overcome his ring rust. Unfortunately for his day 9 match, his preference for an oshi-zumo match will play straight into Shohozan’s strengths. Does Kagayaki go for the mawashi, or just take a pounding from the “big guns”?
Aoiyama vs Ikioi – 7-1 Aoiyama faces 1-7 Ikioi in someone’s twisted idea of a mathematical joke. Ikioi is in no condition to be no the dohyo, let alone to face a wrecking machine like Aoiyama.
Kotoshogiku vs Abi – A joke so nice, they did it twice! 6-2 Kotoshogiku will take on 2-6 Abi. We know Abi will go for a double arm thrust to the neck and shoulders, and Kotoshogiku will try to close in and take him for a ride on the hug-n-chug train.
Asanoyama vs Onosho – Yotsu-zumo Asanoyama vs Oshi-zumo Onosho. Both of them are known to get off balance a bit at times, so we will see whose sumo sets the tone of this clash of styles.
Daieisho vs Nishikigi – Nishikigi needs to “win out” to not end up with a make-koshi for March, and the next stop on that grind is Daieisho, who has shown excellent sumo far superior to his middling 4-4 record. Nishikigi needs a right hand grip early to take control of this match and set the tone.
Kaisei vs Hokutofuji – Kaisei is also up against the make-koshi wall, and his match with Hokutofuji will be a contrast of the Komusubi going for a fierce nodowa, and Kaisei looking to pin him down with a mawashi grip.
Takakeisho vs Chiyotairyu – This one is all about balance, as Takakeisho will need to endure Chiyotairyu’s canon ball tachiai followed by a pull down gambit. If he clears those, the modifications to his wave-action tsuppari will get full play, and we may see Chiyotairyu in the zabuton.
Ichinojo vs Goeido – Ichinojo is precisely the kind of massive, immobile rikishi that can frustrate Goeido and lead him to his “bad” sumo habits, such as pulling attempts and moving backward. This will be a big tests to see if Goeido can stay in the yusho race. Winner is kachi-koshi.
Takayasu vs Tamawashi – these two used to be dependable East / West Sekiwake for a time, but Takayasu move up to Ozeki, leaving Tamawashi behind. The brutal oshi-style of Tamawashi might provoke the Ozeki to bring his shoulder blast back, and in this case it’s entirely warranted.
Tochinoshin vs Shodai – Believe it or not, the record favors Shodai on this match. He could certainly use the win to boost his fighting spirit, and the Ozeki is still an injured mess.
Tochiozan vs Kakuryu – An evenly split 21-23 career record for these two, and Tochiozan has a lot of drive given the oddball loss to Hakuho day 8. Tochiozan is good at limiting his opponents’ options, and that is a bane for Kakuryu. This could be a good match indeed.
Hakuho vs Mitakeumi – Mitakeumi is hurt, but fighting on. Can he rally in his match against “The Boss” on day 9? Right now Hakuho looks almost unbeatable, and usually does until someone can pierce his illusion of invulnerability.
In day 8 action, the Makushita yusho race was locked in as a number of strong rikishi managed to join Naya in the 4-0 column, including fellow one to watch Ichiyamamoto, and former Sekitori mainstay Chiyootori. With only 7 rikishi with perfect records, the field will narrow quickly, and the yusho winner may not end the basho with a perfect record. Late in the Makushita fight roster, Hoshoryu dropped his 3rd match of the basho, and has clearly hit a level of competition that presents a real and formidable challenge to his growing sumo skill.
Day 9 Matches
Ichiyamamoto vs Churanoumi – Let the yusho elimination begin! Ichiyamamoto will take on phenom (and former Juryo man) Churanoumi, who has both a Jonidan and Sandanme yusho to his name from 2016. Churanoumi Has been ranked in the top 10 of Makushita or above since Osaka last year, so Ichiyamamoto has a tough day’s work in front of him.
Midorifuji vs Bushozan – A 2-2 bracket match, Midorifuji wukk face Fujishima heya’s Bushozan, who is looking to bounce back from a make-koshi in January.
Naya vs Tsurubayashi – The second match of our “ones to watch” in the yusho bracket, young Naya is facing off against higher ranked rikishi in an effort to contest for the division title. Ms38 ranked Tsurubayashi is a rough equal for Naya in terms of size and weight, but the 25 year old rikishi Kise heya is a 40 tournament Makushita veteran, and will bring a wealth of experience to the dohyo.
Torakio vs Dairaido – Torakio is still hunting for his first win. Will he score it against former Juryo wrestler Takadagawa? It’s going to be a tough day for the Naruto heya rikishi.
Terunofuji vs Daiyusho – Jonidan yusho race match, former Ozeki Terunofuji looks a little better with each match, and his opponent on day 9 has only been in sumo since Osaka of last year. The prospect of fighting an increasingly genki former Ozeki probably fills young Daiyusho (he’s only 16…) with dread.
Hattorizakura vs Higohikari – I am going to watch this match just in case Higohikari falls down.